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"Stop Social Reform" vs. Czech xenophobic social policy

Prague, 24.10.2012 19:11, (ROMEA)
--ilustrační foto--
--ilustrační foto--

By the end of 2011 and during the start of 2012, many measures known as "social reform" began to apply here in the Czech Republic. While it may not be immediately obvious, these reforms are introducing several completely new elements into the Czech environment that are fundamentally changing the active employment policy system and the provision of social assistance.

The neoliberal recipes mean social rights are being axed and tasks previously performed by the public administration are being shifted to private society, from which it is expected - often erroneously - that these tasks will be performed more efficiently. However, what is being forgotten is that people should be at the center of this attention and that the state exists to serve its citizens instead of the citizens serving the Government or the state.

Unfortunately, the entire social reform is established on a xenophobic basis.The creators and promoters of the reform claim that the "inadaptables" and the indolent do not want to work and are a burden on the hard-working. They claim that having no work is merely the result of personal irresponsibility, irrespective of the fact that the number of jobs available is falling and unemployment is rising. They pay no attention to the fact that the Czech Republic is known for its high rates of long-term unemployed people, among whom we find various disadvantaged groups. They ignore the fact that there is a high degree of discriminatory behavior on the part of employers against mothers, people living with disabilities, and Romani people.

I am definitely not claiming that people who do not want to work, for various reasons, do not exist - such people will always exist. However, most unemployed persons do not work because there is no work, because they don't suit anyone as an employee, and/or because they are considered members of incompetent groups, even though the reality is otherwise. Social welfare payments are supposed to be distributed only to those who deserve them and are responsible. However, isn't it enough that a person deserves parental benefits because he or she is raising children? Don't people deserve the housing benefit when they don't have enough money to house themselves?

Moreover, as far as Romani people are concerned, discrimination on the housing market is unfortunately very widespread in the Czech Republic. Romani people have almost no opportunity to lease or purchase apartments on the ordinary housing market. They get the opportunity to live only in certain places, most of the time for above-market prices. They are frequently housed in completely unsuitable residential hotels, lucrative enterprises that are very often run in cooperation with the public administration.

The housing benefit paid to residents in such arrangements are really not being abused by Romani tenants or others without standard housing, but by the owners and operators of these facilities. Everyone who keeps this system alive is contributing to this welfare abuse.

The unemployed are bearing the worst of the social reforms. Support for the unemployed has been reduced, as has the duration of that support, and conditions for receiving it have been tightened. You may not be entitled to unemployment benefits even when you do meet the social security conditions. A new aspect is that those who are unemployed for longer than two months may be sent to perform public service for up to 20 hours a week (i.e., the same as a half-time job) without being paid for their work. If you refuse to perform this service, you lose your unemployment benefit, your aid in material distress benefit, you are removed from the labor office list of job seekers, and the state will no longer cover your health insurance.

As currently designed, this new form of public service completely degrades human dignity. The ombudsman has already stated that this is forced labor. I would add that this forced labor is producing an advantage for certain employers who wish to take advantage of free labor.

The public sector should serve its purpose as part of the active employment policy and establish paying jobs instead of these public service opportunities. Naturally, such jobs should involve a proper salary or wage. We will never come to grips otherwise with the decline in paid jobs, and we will also never come to grips with the fact that there is a dearth of employees, both female and male, in the education system, the health care system, and social services. These are areas that influence our quality of life to a significant degree.

Because social reforms have introduced many problematic elements which are significantly deteriorating the positions of persons with disabilities, low and middle-income parents after their maternity and parental leaves expire, the socially needy, and the unemployed, the Stop Social Reform campaign (Stop Sociální reformě - English pages at http://stopsocialnireforme.cz/?cat=7) has been launched. This campaign is responding to the advertising and propaganda of the Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry by using the words of those who have been affected by these reforms.

On 10 October the ministry tried to silence these voices and had YouTube remove our clips from the web (see, in Czech only, http://stopsocialnireforme.cz/?p=295). However, you still have the opportunity to see the following clips through the Vimeo server (we hope for some time to come):


Linda Sokačová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Aktuality, Bída, Chudoba, Kampaň



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